George and Pattie Harrison in Haight-Ashbury
The Haight-Ashbury story that always resonated with me the most came from George Harrison, who had visited San Francisco in 1967 with his wife to visit her sister. At some point they decided to take some acid and visit hippie ground zero, expecting a scene of artists and beauty, but finding instead what Harrison later described as “just a lot of bums, many of them who were just very young kids.” Everyone was burnt out and impoverished, and while a crowd initially followed him adoringly, they quickly turned hostile at his lack of engagement. The whole thing was enough to put him off acid and send him to intensive meditation.
There is a widely held impression of deferred dreams or abandoned idealism to the subculture, as if the kids were initially utopian visionaries who just got caught up in drug culture, but honestly… if one is to go by the contemporary media reports, it seemed like the whole hippie scene just kind of sucked from the get-go. Take the alleged first use of the word “hippie” in the mainstream press. The article below (from 1965) was the first in a series for the San Francisco Examiner—the “new bohemians” of San Francisco represented an emerging wave of youth culture, though not one that sounds in any way appealing or groundbreaking (mostly they sound like boring, detached slackers). Later, the series made a point to distinguish between hippies and artists, the latter of which wanted nothing to do with the former, preferring to sell their wares to professionals who had both the money and the interest.
A New Paradise For Beatniks
by Michael Fallon
Five untroubled young “hippies,” scrawled on floor mattresses and slouched in an armchair retrieved from a debris box flipped cigarette ashes at a seashell in their Waller Street flat and pondered their next move.
It was 5 in the evening. Dinner was not yet on the stove; the makings for dinner were nowhere in sight.
No one appeared worried, though. Or even interested.
The same apathy controlled the discussion of their next pad, a move forced on them by a police marijuana and drinking party raid the week before. “Maybe we’ll move to the Fillmore,” said Jeff, 21, the oldest. The proposal drew loud snickers and seemed doomed.
In all likelihood the hippies will drift—together, separately, or in new combinations—to other quarters in the Haight-Ashbury district.
Haight-Ashbury is the city’s new bohemian quarter for serious writers, painters and musicians, civil rights workers, crusaders for all kinds of causes, homosexuals, lesbians, marijuana users, young working couples of artistic bent, in the outer fringe of the bohemian fringe — the “hippies,” the “heads,” the beatniks.
It is, in short, “West Beach.”
By and large, the Establishment of Haight-Ashbury—longtime residents and businessmen—are not in the least disturbed by all this. They are optimistic about the future of the district, welcome “new blood,” and point to commercial growth.
Haight-Ashbury indeed seems to be experiencing a renaissance that will make it a richer, better neighborhood in which to live.
There, too, are hundreds of San Francisco State College students, in flight from Parkmerced and in close contact with the hip world, and more aloof delegations from the University of California Medical Center and the University of San Francisco.
They fit into a mosaic of races and nationalities unique in the city—Negroes, Filipinos, some Japanese, Russians, Czechs, Scandinavians, Armenians, Greeks, Germans, and Irish.
Newcomers and old-timers both are attracted to Haight-Ashbury by the low rents. A high-ceilinged, six-room apartment worth $250 a month or more elsewhere in San Francisco may be found there for $150 or even for as low as $85.
The neighborhood is sprucing itself up. Dozens of splendid pre-earthquake Victorian homes have been refurbished and acquired fresh paint. New businesses are moving in to cater to the new bohemians. Older shops are enlarging.
Yet there are troubles. The threat of urban renewal projects in adjoining districts, or in Haight-Ashbury itself, raises slum fears. “Planning” is not a kindly received word, by and large, among the 30,000 people live east of Stanyan Street, south of Fulton, west of Divisadero and north of 17th Street, Upper Terrace and Buena Vista Park.
The neighborhood’s problems had little importance in the flat at 1446 Waller St., where a visitor was cautioned by a four-year-old Negro girl playing on the front steps: “Don’t go in there. That’s the wrong door. That’s the beatnik door.”
In the previous week’s marijuana raid, police had jailed eight tenants and rounded up 14 suburban juveniles, nearly all neat and well-behaved.
The five survivors in the third floor flat said that the gathering had been a “rent party,” advertised in the hip world to raise — as effortlessly as possible — $100 for another month’s rent.
Like many hippies, they defended marijuana. “It’s not habit-forming, you know,” they said. “To equate it with smack (heroin) is wrong.”
Marijuana sells for about one dollar a stick (cigaret) or $15 an say [sic] it is easily obtained and far healthier than a few shots of whiskey.
Would the five consider taking jobs to raise bail for comrades unfairly incarcerated?
“It would be a lot of work.”
“They wouldn’t expect it of us.”
If they weren’t worried about their friends, or the next pad, or anything else, then how about dinner? Where was that next meal coming from?
“A lot of us have ‘straight’ friends. They bring us food.”
Without lifting a finger, hippies share, too, in this age of affluence. On the menu that evening was lasagna
(Tomorrow: Coffee-housing in the MTA)
After the jump, George Harrison discusses the Haight…